Fox News contributor John Bolton aided President-elect Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine the CIA’s assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, repeatedly suggesting the hacking could be a “false flag operation.” Bolton was previously under consideration for secretary of state and is currently a front-runner for deputy secretary of state in the Trump administration.
The Washington Post reported on December 9 that “the CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency.” An anonymous U.S. official briefed on the intelligence said this was “the consensus view” of the intelligence community. Trump, in a Fox News Sunday interview that aired on December 11, called the assessment “ridiculous,” adding that he doesn’t “believe it at all.”
Bolton, in appearances on Fox News on December 11 and 12, suggested that the hacking could have been a “false flag operation” meant to misleadingly implicate Russia.
On Sunday’s America’s News Headquarters, Bolton acknowledged the seriousness of a foreign government intervening in the presidential election, but questioned the assessment that Russia did so. Bolton said, “It’s not at all clear to me, just viewing this from the outside, that this hacking into the [Democratic National Committee] and the [Republican National Committee] computers was not a false flag operation.” Bolton claimed that, because the FBI was unable to find evidence that Russia had hacked Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s private server, it was unlikely that Russia would have hacked the DNC and RNC computers and left fingerprints for the CIA to find. Bolton’s claim was based on the unfounded assumption that Russia did successfully hack Clinton’s computer. Bolton also suggested that it was possible someone in the Obama administration or the intelligence community was behind the alleged false flag, answering that “we just don’t know” when asked if he believed that could have happened.
Later Sunday on Fox Report, Bolton defended his assertion, saying that he meant to call the CIA’s assessment a “false flag in the sense that this conclusion that the Russians did it, I think, is arrived at too easily.”
On Monday’s Fox & Friends, Bolton then said, “I think it’s at least a question to be asked, whether or not this was a false flag operation with some foreign government other than Russia.”
During his Fox & Friends appearance, Bolton also addressed news reports about his comments from the previous day, saying they claimed “I said on Fox yesterday that I thought the Obama administration had conducted the hack into the RNC and the DNC,” and calling it “typical bad reporting." He added, “I have never believed that. I didn’t believe that yesterday, I don’t believe it today.” But both CBS News and Politico explained that Bolton in fact did suggest just that. From the CBS News article (emphasis added):
Though Bolton didn’t elaborate on the term “false flag,” he seemed to be suggesting that someone in the Obama administration or the intelligence agencies could have been attempting to falsely lead the public into believing Russia was to blame for the hacking.
Shawn followed up by asking, “Are you actually accusing someone here in the administration or in the intelligence community of trying to throw something?”
Bolton was not specific: “We just don’t know,” he replied. “But I believe that intelligence has been politicized in the Obama administration to a very significant degree.”
After Bolton made his third appearance on Fox to claim that the hacking could be a “false flag operation,” former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page said the “U.S. government might have deliberately orchestrated cyberattacks to make it look as though they were coming from Russia,” according to New York Times reporter Ivan Nechepurenko.
This is not the first time Bolton has tried to discredit accusations that Russia interfered in the election. In July, while discussing the first dump of DNC emails by WikiLeaks, Bolton suggested that supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders might have actually hacked the DNC and framed Russia. Bolton claimed, “Somebody who wanted to cast blame on the Russians could put in those indications of other Russian hacking efforts. If I were a Bernie Sanders supporter, and I wanted [the DNC emails] out, and I were good at computers, maybe I'd do that.”